Baltimore County plans to reduce the paid staff at its senior centers to one per location and increase the number of volunteers in an effort to save $500,00 a year. But some question whether the centers can find enough volunteers to take up the slack.
Starting in October, the county will introduce the plan at its Catonsville senior center on a six-month trial basis. If it works out there, staff reductions will be expanded to the rest of the county's 21 senior centers. The six largest centers would be hit the hardest, however.
The county's smaller centers normally have one full-time worker and one part-time worker. The six largest centers -- Catonsville, Pikesville, Liberty Road, Parkville, Essex and Dundalk -- each have up to three paid workers, plus custodians.
Currently, the county's Department of Aging has 22 volunteers for every paid staffer -- about 5,000 volunteers in all, said Dr. Philip H. Pushkin, the department's director.
The county also operates three adult-day care centers for disabled seniors. Those centers are staffed according to federal law: one staff member for every five seniors in care. That ratio may not be cut, said Dr. Pushkin.
No one will be laid off or have his or her hours cut by the reduction in force, Dr. Pushkin said. The cuts will be made by attrition and by not filling the department's 28 existing vacancies. Eventually, the county could save up to $500,000 a year by not filling those vacant slots, said County Executive Roger B. Hayden.
At the Catonsville center, which has 2,200 members and 220 volunteers, some volunteers already are worried about how maintenance will be handled once the plan goes into effect.
"This is a very large challenge," said Russell M. Cooney, a 66-year-old volunteer who heads Catonsville's Senior Center Council. "It has merit, but I'm not sure how much merit."
He said Dr. Pushkin plans to cut back daytime maintenance coverage and change night custodial care to a later hour. This means that seniors who use the center and who some times spill food or need bathrooms cleaned during day or evening hours will have less help, he said.
"I'm not going to ask a volunteer to clean out a toilet," said Mr. Cooney.
The staff reduction also will make it more difficult to schedule trips, care for the center's van and run the catering operation, said Mr. Cooney.
Three volunteers alone are needed to care for the center's van over a five-day period, he said. Catonsville is the only center with a van.
Dr. Pushkin said he realizes that retirees who worked hard for 40 years or more don't want to work as full-time volunteers. On Monday, he will present the plan to the Catonsville Senior Council.
Baltimore County has a fast-growing senior population. About 136,000 residents are 60 years or older, accounting for 19 percent of the county's 692,000 population. About 18,500 seniors belong to one of the county senior centers. Dr. Pushkin said he would like to draw more seniors into the county's centers, but doesn't have the staff to carry out other programs.